February 5, 2018

Will Google's New Page Speed Criteria Affect Your Site?

If you visit your website on a mobile device right now, how long does it take to load? If you don’t know the answer, you might want to take the time to run an analysis. Desktop-based Google search has always considered page speed as a ranking factor, but only recently has Google announced that page speed would be a factor on mobile devices.
So what are the ramifications of this announcement? How will the new ranking criteria affect your site?
The Change in a Nutshell
Google formally announced the coming change on January 17, on the Webmaster Central Blog. Calling it the “Speed Update,” the plan is to slowly roll out the new ranking factor starting in July 2018—which gives you plenty of time to make changes as you see fit.

According to Google, the update is only going to affect the slowest sites on the web, and is only going to come into play for a small percentage of queries. In other words, the new criteria is only designed to weed out slow sites, rather than rewarding fast sites.
There’s no way to tell exactly what criteria Google is using here; for example, it’s not like all pages that take more than three seconds to load are going to be affected. In fact, on the Webmaster Central Blog, Google encourages webmasters to “think broadly about how performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics,” rather than spending too much time thinking about speed alone.
Will You Be Affected?

According to research from 2017, about 70 percent of sites take roughly 7 seconds to load on mobile devices. As a mobile device user, you likely know, intuitively, that 7 seconds is a long time. You reasonably expect your content to load within 2 or 3 seconds, and anything longer than that is frustrating.
While we don’t have an exact metric to work with, we do know that Google is insisting that only a handful of sites and queries will be affected. In fact, because relevance is still so important, a highly relevant piece of content can still achieve top rankings—even if it loads slower than average.
So will your site be affected? The simplest answer is “probably not,” since only the worst-offending sites are going to see the negative ranking factor.
If you’re concerned about your site’s performance, you can use Google’s own PageSpeed Insights tool to check the load times and speed of your individual web pages. While you’re at it, you can use the Chrome User Experience Report to look up other user engagement metrics for your site.
Why Page Speed Is Still Important
Even though your site probably won’t be affected by the new update, this is a good time to analyze—and improve—your site speed. Even if your efforts don’t result in a higher search ranking, there are many benefits to having a faster site, including:
  • Visitor retention. Today’s users are demanding. They generally expect a site to load within 2 seconds, and may abandon your site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Cutting your load time by even a fraction of a second increases the likelihood that a user will stay on your site after clicking a link.
  • Actions and subsequent page visits. A quick-loading site is an inviting site. When users discover that your pages load quickly, with little delay, they’ll be more inclined to visit other pages on your site, and more likely to purchase with you.
  • Brand reputation. If a user decides to stick around, despite an unsatisfactory loading time, they may think less of your brand when engaging with your site. This may negatively affect your consumer relationships.

Improving Your Speed

Let’s say you want to improve your site’s loading time—what can you do?

  • Make sure you’re optimized for mobile. First and foremost, make sure your site is optimized for mobile. Use a responsive design, and ensure that all your content loads quickly and efficiently on mobile devices.
  • Streamline on-page components. For every component of your site, including images, stylesheets, and scripts, there will be an HTTP request. The more requests there are, the longer it will take for your site to load. Try to streamline these components as much as possible to reduce the number of necessary requests.
  • Get a good caching plugin. Get a caching plugin, and don’t play around with the settings unless you know what you’re doing. This will make the site load faster on subsequent visits.
  • Minimize your image and video sizes. Images and video are the heaviest file types you’ll have on your site, so try to minimize them as much as you can without sacrificing quality.
  • Cut unnecessary files. If there are files on your site (like images), or on the backend (like old blog drafts) that aren’t necessary, eliminate them. The smaller and more efficient your website is, the faster it will load.
Google’s Speed Update isn’t going to spark an SEO revolution—especially considering that page speed has been a desktop ranking factor for many years, and that the update is only going to affect the bottom tier of webpages.
Still, this is a good opportunity to review your site’s loading speed on mobile devices, analyze your key user experience metrics, and make tweaks to improve your site’s mobile performance.
Photo by: Thought Catalog- Unsplash

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